Cambria, Paso Robles, Wine, Olive Oil and Chocolate Chip Cookies with Olive Oil and Sea Salt

Last weekend we went with a group of friends to Cambria (California’s central coast, north of San Luis Obispo, south of Big Sur).  It was really beautiful and a lot of fun.  One of the highlights was the day we spent in Paso Robles (the wine country just east of Cambria).  We hired a van and driver through the Wine Wrangler (or, as it was called by the end of the day, “The Wine Wangler”.  Lol.)  We stopped at Farmstand 46 for absolutely incredible gourmet sandwiches (I had the “Monte Carlo”…tuna, bouquerones, pickled egg, red onion and salt & vinegar potato chips on a French roll!  OMG…best tuna sandwich EVER) and ate in the art gallery at Castoro Cellars (incredibly beautiful vineyards and a superb Chardonnay).

One of the highlights of the day was visiting Kiler Ridge Olive Farm for olive oil tasting. Kiler Ridge is located on a hilltop, with 360-degree spectacular views of the valley and nearby vineyards.  Owner Gregg Bone is a retired chemist and boy, oh boy, did we learn a lot about olive oil!  He told us that olive oil has three main flavor characteristics:  bitterness, pungency and fruitiness.  And that time and exposure to light are enemies of olive oil and its beneficial triglycerides, so buy smaller bottles of olive oil and store them in a dark, cool place.

But let’s back up a month or so to when we were planning the Wine Wrangler outing.  I had researched a few vineyards and emailed everyone about olive oil tasting.  Everybody was game.  One of the full gastro-touristing experiences offered at Kiler Ridge is tasting vanilla ice cream with olive oil and sea salt.  A few friends in our group weren’t so keen on that.  They thought it sounded weird.  I agreed that it sounded weird, but would venture to say that its really delicious.

Which, of course, got me thinking that there must be some incredible baked good using olive oil and sea salt, that I could bake and bring up to share with everyone.  So I found a recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies with Olive Oil & Sea Salt.  What the heck.  I decided to give them a try.  To be honest, after making the “dough”, I was really nervous.  It was so gloppy (is that a word?) and oily-looking.  I figured they’d spread all over the pan when put in the oven.  They didn’t!  They firmed right up into lovely golden cookies.  So I froze them and brought them with me.  After eating our lunch at Castoro, I brought out the cookies.  Everybody loved them.  The olive oil just gives them a sort of earthy deliciousness.  And the sea salt just adds that extra little “zing”.

Okay, so now back to Gregg at Kiler Ridge.  About five minutes into his talk, as he’s explaining the differences between real extra virgin olive oil compared to the stuff that’s commercially pressed and bottled by the big name brands, I was feeling a little bad about my chocolate chip cookies.  Okay, only a little bad.  We all still thought they were delicious (in fact, we managed to eat every last one), though we did nickname them “the tainted chocolate chip cookies”.  I’m just glad I didn’t offer one to Gregg!

And I am definitely down with trying the vanilla ice cream with olive oil and sea salt!

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Olive Oil & Sea Salt

INGREDIENTS

1 cup extra virgin olive oil (Besides the obvious, Kiler Ridge, Gregg also recommends California Olive Ranch and Costco’s Toscana brands.)

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

2 1/2 cups flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup chopped pecans

coarse sea salt

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, soda, and salt.

In a larger bowl, “cream” olive oil and sugars. It will get soupy, but it won’t really get fluffy like it does with butter. Add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition and then add the vanilla. Now you can put the mixer on high for a minute, just to fluff the eggs out, but don’t do it for too long because olive oil can turn bitter if over worked.

Add flour gradually

Stir in chocolate chips and nuts

Scoop out blobs of cookie dough (about two tablespoons) onto ungreased cookie sheets. No need to flatten these will melt into gorgeous little blobby puddles.

Sprinkle a smidgen of coarse sea salt on top of each cookie.

Bake for about 10 minutes, until just lightly browned.

Let cool on pans for a few minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool (or, whatever, start eating them warm!)  And they freeze beautifully!

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Potato Chip Cookies

Potato Chip Cookies.  Sound kinda weird, I know.  The first time I heard of them was a couple of years ago when my brother-in-law Sam was filming a segment for his show (oh, right, Sam as in Sam the Cooking Guy) where he was featuring recipes that viewers had sent him.  He called me to see if I had ever heard of Potato Chip Cookies and if I thought they would be too weird.  I said, “I bet they are actually good, with the saltiness of the potato chips added to a sweet cookie”.  So he made them on the show and actually liked them.

Then, a few months ago, I saw a Potato Chip Cookie recipe posted on my favorite Smitten Kitchen.  She tops hers with a little extra crumbled potato chip and says you can drizzle them with or dip them in chocolate.  OMG.  I printed out the recipe and had every intention of making a batch, but it ended up in the recipe file.

And then, when I was visiting a friend in Gig Harbor, WA, last month, she had a cookie jar on her kitchen counter and I asked what the cookies were.  She said, “Border Sugar Cookies…they’re good.  They have potato chips in them.”  Oh boy. They were good!  But why are they called Border Sugar Cookies?  So we looked up and compared the recipes.  Virtually the same.  Border Sugar Cookies are Potato Chip Cookies, but when they serve them at the Border Grill in Santa Monica, they call them Border Sugar Cookies.  Fine.

So fast forward to a coworker’s birthday last week.  She had mentioned that she likes Snickerdoodle or shortbread type cookies, not too sweet, and chocolate is not her favorite (okay, whatever, she’s still a nice kid, and I do love me a shortbread-y, salty, sweet cookie…see Margarita Cookies, also from SK.)  Finally!  Just the excuse I needed to make Potato Chip Cookies!

I pulled the SK recipe and followed it to the tee.  I didn’t drizzle with chocolate, I don’t know that they really need them.  These are delicious.  And not weird at all.  In fact, I think I may have a new favorite cookie!

Potato Chip Cookies

INGREDIENTS

 Cookie

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar, divided

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon table salt

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup finely crushed potato chips

2 cups all-purpose flour

Potato chip/salt finish (SK says optional, I think its necessary!)

1 tablespoon crushed potato chips

1-1/2 teaspoons flaked sea salt

Chocolate finish (optional)

4 ounces semi-or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1 teaspoon butter, canola oil or vegetable shortening

DIRECTIONS

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter with 1/2 cup of the sugar until lightly and fluffy. Mix in the vanilla and table salt, if using, until smooth. Add the pecans, 1/2 cup crushed potato chips and flour together and mix until just combined.

Place the remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a small bowl. Scoop a tablespoon-sized mound of dough and form it into a small ball with the palms of your hands. Roll the ball in the remaining sugar until coated. Place on prepared baking sheet and using the bottom of a drinking glass to slightly flatten the cookies. Cookies only need to be an inch apart; they only spread a little. Sprinkle with a few flakes of the potato chip salt, if using. Repeat with remaining dough.

Bake cookies until lightly golden at the edges, about 15 minutes. Transfer to cool on a wire rack.

If dipping in chocolate, melt chocolate with butter, oil or shortening in a double boiler or in short bursts in the microwave. Stir until smooth. Dip half of each fully cooled cookie in the chocolate, and let dry and harden on a wire rack. If drizzling, let the chocolate cool slightly and then dip the tines of a fork in the chocolate and drizzle over the cookies.

The Only Brownie Recipe You’ll Ever Need

I have had this brownie recipe for a long, LONG time.  So long, in fact, it’s handwritten on an index card (a yellowed, chocolate-stained index card, I might add)!  I have no idea if someone gave it to me or if I found it and copied it from a cookbook or magazine.  These are to-die-for brownies. Double chocolate…with chocolate chips stirred in…fudgy…moist…the only brownie recipe you’ll ever need!  And easy…almost as easy as making from a box, but a zillion times better. Once you make them, you’ll never make brownies from a box again.  Please don’t make brownies from a box again.

Double Chocolate Brownies

INGREDIENTS

1/3 cup unsalted butter

2 tablespoons water

3/4 cup sugar

1-12oz. package semi-sweet chocolate chips (divided)

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 eggs

3/4 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup nuts (I usually use walnuts)

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 325°.  Lightly grease a 9″ square pan.

In medium saucepan, combine butter, sugar and water; stir until butter melts and bring just to a boil.  Remove from heat.  Add half of the package of chocolate chips and vanilla and stir until smooth.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.  Add dry ingredients and stir until smooth.  Stir in remaining chocolate chips and nuts.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes.  Let cool (if you can wait that long) and cut into squares.

Three of My All-Time Favorite Recipes…#1 Margarita Cookies

We had a Mexican-themed celebration dinner just before our daughter left for college.  I searched and searched for a margarita-ish dessert (and I did not want to do one of those maragarita pies with the lime Jello filling and pretzel crust!).  I found these on what has become my all-time favorite and most visited website/blog Smitten Kitchen.  Turns out Deb Perelman (the voice, genius cook and food photog behind SK) adapated the recipe from Dori Greenspan’s Lemon Sables.  (Dorie is also a regular contributor to BA and her cookbook “Baking:  From My House to Yours” is wonderful!)

What makes these the best cookies ever?  Sweet and salty, shortbread-like, with a little orange & lime…they are perfect, delicious and oh-so pretty little bites of heaven!

Margarita Cookies (or, as I call them, The Best Cookies Ever!)

Makes about 50 cookies

INGREDIENTS

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted

2 large egg yolks, at room temperature

Pinch of salt

2 teaspoons tequila

Grated zest of 2 limes

Grated zest of half an orange

2 cups all-purpose flour

Coating:

Approximately 1/2 cup clear sanding or other coarse sugar (like “Sugar in the Raw”)
2 teaspoons flake sea salt or kosher salt

DIRECTIONS

Put the butter in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat at medium speed until it is smooth. Add the sifted confectioners’ sugar and beat again until the mixture is smooth and silky. Beat in 1 of the egg yolks, followed by the salt, tequila, grated lime and orange zest. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, beating just until it disappears. It is better to underbeat than overbeat at this point; if the flour isn’t fully incorporated, that’s OK—just blend in whatever remaining flour needs blending with a rubber spatula. Turn the dough out onto a counter, gather it into a ball, and divide it in half. Wrap each piece of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Working on a smooth surface, form each piece of dough into a log that is about 1 to 1 1/4 inches thick. (Get the thickness right, and the length you end up with will be fine.) Wrap the logs in plastic and chill for at least 2 hours. (The dough can be wrapped airtight and kept refrigerated for up to 3 days or stored in the freezer for up to 1 month.)

Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

While the oven is preheating, work on the sugar coating: Whisk the remaining egg yolk in a small bowl until it is smooth and liquid enough to use as a glaze. Mix the coarse sugar and flaky salt well and spread the mixture out on a piece of wax paper. Remove the logs of dough from the refrigerator, unwrap them, and brush them lightly with a little egg yolk. Roll the logs in the sugar, pressing the sugar/salt mixture gently to get it to stick if necessary, then, using a sharp slender knife, slice each log into cookies about 1/4 inch.  Place the cookies on the lined baking sheets, leaving about 1/2 inch space between them.

Bake the cookies for 12 to 14 minutes, or until they are set but not browned. (It’s fine if the yolk-brushed edges brown a smidgen.) Transfer the cookies to cooling racks to cool to room temperature.

Keeping: Packed airtight, the cookies will keep for about 5 days at room temperature. Because the sugar coating will melt, these cookies are not suitable for freezing.